As we’ve gathered stories in organisations, we’ve often come across stories that deal with corruption and bribery. I recently saw a communication from a large South African paper producing company with regards to gifts and hospitality. It outlines the following points:


I would like to bring to your attention that the following is applicable to any gifts and hospitality offered to our employees:

1.Only gifts and hospitality of an advertising nature of a reasonable value on which the name of the ad­vertiser is indelibly printed, is considered acceptable.

2.Entertainment such as lunches, dinners and braai’s where the sole purpose of said function is to entertain our personnel only, should not be offered or arranged.

Gifts, hospitality and favours offered outside these limits will be considered inappropriate and may reflect negatively on our future business dealings.


Just like that – future business will be at risk if any of the above is contravened. Now, bribery is a huge problem in South African, especially when it comes to currying favour with the buying department of one of your clients.

The above letter comes from a company that is well located amongst the smaller, more rural towns in South Africa.
It reminds me of a thread of stories Sonj­a and I gathered recently in a culture assessment of one of the leading mining companies (also a rural, small town company spread throughout the country). The stories related how recent restrictions on gifts and hospitality impinged on family dynamics. How and why? Well, in these small towns you’ll find that companies and their supplies will employ people from the same family – there is just not the same depth of human resources available in a small town like there is in the cosmopolitan setting of Jozi and Cape Town.

The result is a common scenario where a husband will work in the procurement department of Company A while his wife will work in the Sales department of Company B. Now, as South African families are want to do, they will have a braai together on the weekend. The problem? Well, attending the braai is in direct contravention of their company’s rules regarding social interactions with suppliers and poses a rather interesting dilemma for the family.

These stories went a long way in showing how the restrictions on gifts and hospitality have very little contextual relevance outside of the context in which the decision was made. Sound familiar? Of course, many decisions are made in a similar vein. And so, the above letter will no doubt have a similar impact in many small towns and families across the country.

We’re beginning to sound like stuck records when we say that when dealing with a complex problem (like bribery in organisations) one needs to avoid the temptation to treat it like a simple problem and merely create a policy to regulate the problem. It won’t work!